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As-Sanayeh Garden, the Arts and Crafts (Park)

There is a district in west-central Beirut known as Es-Sanayeh, a plural word meaning the Arts and Crafts, for which now , however, there are schools in every corner of Lebanon.

But this quarter was also known for quite a long time for its free hospital, the first no doubt of its kind since it belonged to the State. In front of the old building which gave its name to the area there was a large public garden maintained by the authorities where many would come to relax, absorb some refreshments, do a little reading, or have a quiet smoke in the cool shade of the trees and shrubs. The hospital building was put up during the time of the “mutassarefs” late in the nineteenth century when Lebanon was ruled by governors under the Sublime Porte, who were placed over the country by multinational agreement. At present it is occupied by a faculty of the Lebanese University.

The garden with its varied woodland trees was a favorite meeting-place where one could wile away the time, relax and take a rest on the way between Tallet al-Khayat and Hamra Street. It stood on a low rise in the ground and the many people taking advantage of the pleasant surroundings could get served by the many vendors of lemonade, buns, “manoushes”, sweets and fruit. Unfortunately this garden, the oldest in Beirut, suffered much damage during the violence of the later years of the twentieth century. Its upkeep was neglected, quite a few missiles fell there, and one could see trees withered, broken and surrounded by rubbish. The garden in fact had lost nearly all its charm.

Even now, this site of some 22,000 square meters, donated by the Tabara family in 1900 and now surrounded by high buildings , is the largest plot of verdure in Beirut with the exception of the Pine Forest.

The garden was laid out in 1909 during the reign of Sultan Abdel Hamid and originally bore his name but later came to be called the Sanayeh. It was conceived as a garden in the French style, with symmetry, order, infrastructure and everything to suit the public pleasure: paths, alleys, pleasant views, benches, fences, and a variety of trees and shrubs.

After the criminal assassination of President René Muawad on November 22nd, 1989, the authorities decided to restore the garden to its pristine condition, so it was replanted and certain improvements carried out. Since then the garden has been maintained by the City Council, with irrigation, tidying, cleaning, turning the soil, manuring, and pest control.

When the monument dedicated to the murdered prime minister Ryad es-Solh was put up in the square named after him, the fountain it replaced, work of the architect Yussef Aftimos, was transported and erected in the Sanayeh Garden. As this meant carrying out certain work, the garden was for a time closed to the public; but in 2012 work was resumed and the site transformed, thanks to donations totaling 4.5 million US dollars from Holding Azadea, NGOs, Liban Roots and associations for the preservation of forests.

In 2014 the garden was opened again to the public and with its transformation became like any garden in Europe. There are children’s playgrounds, paths for jogging and cycling, an amphitheater, exhibition halls, a stone wall bearing the names of famous Lebanese, fountains, and watered flower-beds, which attract many poor people from densely populated areas. Along a large stretch of the garden there are shops and booths bearing the Sanayeh name such as Sanayeh Flowers, and selling coffee, sandwiches, and souvenirs, and even a pharmacy.

New trees have been planted and clean toilets have been installed. A number of security guards protect the garden from undesirable elements, the lawns and fountains are carefully maintained, and areas are kept free for children’s games. There is also question of integrating historical remains such as ancient columns, to be provided by the antiquities services. The shrubberies have been planted in a decorative way around the fountain.

Such gardens are a blessing for people obliged to live surrounded by towering buildings in the form of concrete blocks. Before Word War II the whole of Lebanon was like one great public park, a lush green garden, eighty percent of the land being farmland or woodland. In the space of fifty years, all this has been trampled down, with woodland and verdure all but vanished. The environment is becoming ever harsher. So let us strive to save our trees, our Lebanon, and increase the stretches of greenery inside our towns. There are cities in France such as Besançon where the green zones cover more than seventy percent of the land within their boundaries, whereas in Beirut there are whole streets without a single flower to be seen. Alas!

Joseph Matar
Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

- Sanayeh Garden and Park 1 : >> View Movie << (2014-06-15)
Sanayeh Garden and Park 2: >> View Movie << (2014-06-15)



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